Lesson 4) Rune Meanings
As tAs the students begin to assemble for their weekly lecture, they notice that the runes are no longer present. The other displays and objects from last week still remain, however. As Professor Cattercorn enters, her screech owl flies around the ceiling, and attempts to snap at one of the foreign objects until he calls him down to perch by the desk. Once everyone settles in, and after making sure Fuzzlette isn’t going to cause anymore disruptions, she begins the lesson.
Good morning, students! I hope making your own rune sets went well! I know we may not be used to working with materials by hand instead of altering things with a flick of your wand, but it looks like all of you still have your fingers, so no harm done! Today we will finally be able to start putting those rune sets of yours to good use. We will be going over the meanings of each of the runes, and talk a bit about how to read them, though we will only be covering the basics today as we will go more in-depth next week as we wrap up our discussion of runes and spreads. Luckily, a lot of the basic mechanics of rune reading are similar to tarot, so you will be able to perform simple readings right away. After all, the best way to improve is with hands-on study!
Before we go on, we do need to discuss three things. Firstly, I must mention the different “categories” of meaning that are ascribed to the runes of the Elder Futhark. As we mentioned last class, the Elder Futhark had many uses and has been used over millennia. This means that they have accumulated multiple meanings, and multiple kinds of meanings. As it was used as a writing system the runes obviously have phonetic values, just as our own Latin letters do. For example, “e” and “r” both stand for sounds.
However, the symbols of the Elder Futhark ghave much deeper meanings than simple phonetic use, unlike our Latin alphabet. Each rune also has a divinatory meaning and a use for runic spells. The former is what we will be talking about in detail today, though witches and wizards also have great interest in their more general magical properties as well. The reason I am telling you this is because when the meanings of the Elder Futhark are covered in textbooks, it is likely you will find mention of both aspects due to the life work of witch and runologist, Sofia Schreiber. While often times the magical powers of the runes and the divinatory meanings of the runes overlap, they are not the same!
The key difference to keep in mind is that divinatory meanings are just that, meanings, whereas the magical uses are only to be used in runic spells. If you read about a rune inherently having the power to affect the world around it, this is a magical property, not a divinatory meaning, even if it is not expressly noted. Divinatory meanings are just cues for us to interpret with our Inner Eye, not something that affects the world on its own. It is also relevant to note that there are meanings that runologists call “mundane” meanings. These are meanings that the Norse people and Germanic tribes originally ascribed to the runes before their magical uses developed. Often, the magical and divinatory meanings are highly related, but they are still considered a separate entity. We are not overly concerned with them in this class, apart from their relationship and influence on the divinatory meanings.
The second thing we will be going over, though slightly less crucial to your understanding of how runes work, is that we will be separating the 24 runes into three different groups of eight runes called aetts. Each aett has been associated with a god or goddess to underlie similarities in meaning and use. At the end of these three aetts we will also cover the twenty fifth, or blank, rune.
Lastly, when we go over the runes, you will hear me speak of “standard” or “upright” meanings, as well as “merkstave” meanings. Standard meanings are just that, standard. If you draw a rune that is face up so that the rune is displayed normally, you may apply the standard meaning. However, if you draw the rune and the symbol is upside down, or the face of the rune is not showing, normally you would read the merkstave meanings there. In fact, merkstave literally means “dark stick”, meant to refer to the fact that only one side of runes is inscribed with a symbol and the other is left blank. Much like the tarot, though, you may choose not to include merkstave readings, or only to read a rune merkstave if the undecorated side of the rune is shown (therefore ignoring “upside down” positions of runes and reading them as normal). Merkstave forms are not all necessarily the opposite of their standard meanings, but more accurately express the negative connotations of those meanings.
This aett, named for the Norse goddess of fertility, love, and beauty, is associated with life in various forms. The first six runes of this aett give their name to this alphabet (ᚠᚢᚦᚨᚱᚲ or futhark). Like the other aetts we will see, each rune has a name to distinguish it from the others and will have both standard and merkstave forms.
This is the first rune of the aett and indeed the entire alphabet. This rune is the rune of wealth. It indicates abundance, good fortune (as in luck and fate), as well as large fortunes, as it applies to material wealth. It can also indicate hope. In its merkstave form, it indicates the darker side of wealth including poverty, greed, misfortune and “hard times”, and loss, both of physical objects as well as in a more emotional way. In merkstave, this rune can also imply slavery, whether literal or metaphorical.
This rune represents the powerful auroch, or the Graphorn. Any powerful creature will do. The standard form of this rune contains all positive meanings associated with creatures of this nature, such as speed, strength, and freedom. Meanwhile, the merkstave form represents sloth, weakness (in terms of physical strength as well as will), lust, and violence.
Thurisaz represents the jötun, jötunn, or a host of many other similar spellings, which we would translate as giants. In its standard form, Thurisaz represents change, conflict, and even destruction, though usually with the end result being positive change or growth. It can also represent purging or cleansing forces such as fire. In its merkstave form, its simplest interpretation is danger. However, branches of this main meaning include defenselessness, evil, betrayal, or lies.
The rune of the ancestral gods, or aesir, Ansuz represents many facets of intelligence and education, as these gods were thought of as very wise. Therefore, common meanings are communication (as this was done with the written word, and literacy was a great accomplishment), inspiration, advice, and interestingly, divination. On the other hand, if upside down, this rune can mean manipulation, vanity, boredom, and misunderstandings.
The rune of journeys and travelers, this rune signifies a journey (whether literal, emotional, or in some other metaphorical way). It can also mean opportunities and choices. When reversed, it can mean stagnation, being dislocated, or even death.
ᚲ Kenaz or Kaunan
Interestingly, this rune has two names, owing to the later importance of this rune after it developed in the Anglo-Saxon Futhork. Meanings of this rune in divination come from this script as well. Though this does not mean that the script has magic influence, only that the Elder Futhark version was not properly researched and additional meanings were not uncovered until study of younger scripts helped bring to light new meanings.
Speaking of, these meanings center around the torch or beacon: vision (literally and creatively) and inspiration, whereas its merkstave meanings represent the lack of these qualities, such as confusion, illusions, and a creative slump.
Ideas related to gifts are at the heart of this rune, like generosity, sacrifice, and mutually beneficial partnerships or relationships. Before we talk about its merkstave meaning, however, it must be noted that this rune looks identical when upside down. Therefore, it can only be read as opposing other runes with meanings including bribery, wasted sacrifices, greed, and dependence.
Last in Freya’s aett, we have Wunjo. Joy is the general meaning of this rune, which can be expanded to encompass fellowship, harmony, and prosperity. Reversed, it indicates a lack of these things, such as with sorrow and discord, or can mean joy to an excess that is harmful, which can include delirium and impractical ecstasy that blinds you.
Also known -- though less often -- as Hagall’s aett, this group of runes is tied together by the guardian god, Heimdall. He is the guardian of the bridge between the world of the gods, Asgard, and the world of men, Midgard, and serves to protect both parties from each other and intruders.
Hagalaz indicates the extremely powerful forces of nature and trials. These meanings can also be expanded upon to imply trials and forces of the subconscious. It does not have a merkstave form, but instead may be read in certain situations to be lying in opposition to other runes (though this takes intuition and listening to your ability) to mean pain, suffering, natural disasters, and crisis.
A fitting rune in a group attributed to a god of roads, this rune often means delay. This delay can have positive outcomes, though, and can indicate self-reliance, need, and survival. When in merkstave positions, it can indicate drudgery, want, and deprivation.
The key idea behind Isa is challenge. This can be physical blocks you set up for yourself, as well as frustration. This is yet another rune that has no merkstave meanings owing to its design, but can stand in opposition to another rune by way of meaning treachery, stealth, schemes, or plots.
This rune is centered around the harvest. Standard meanings range from peace, prosperity, cyclical patterns (particularly of life), and growth. Yet another in the subset of runes that cannot be merkstave but are sometimes interpreted as in opposition to other runes. When this is the case, this rune means reversals, poor timing, and decay.
The yew tree binds the various meanings of this rune together, and so the other meanings come from natural associations with it, such as life and death, due to the yew tree’s long life and ability to regenerate (after a fashion) after its life has ceased. Other meanings include reliability and trustworthiness as well as defense and strength. When reversed, this rune takes on the meanings of confusion, destruction, and weakness.
Fate is the keyword when considering Perthro’s meanings. It is heavily linked with divining and divination, and can be expanded upon to also mean secrets, mysteries, initiations, femininity, and fertility. In merkstave positions, it can mean addiction, loneliness, or general unspecific feelings, illness, or unhappiness.
A very fitting rune to be part of Heimdall’s aett, this rune represents a guardian. Meanings that stem from this include a shield, protection, warding against evil, and instincts. When represented in merkstave, these meanings change to hidden dangers, warnings, and advice to turn away or turn back.
Lastly in this group, we have Sowilo. The Sun is associated with this rune, as are success, health, victory, and life forces. While Sowilo cannot be read in merkstave, if your intuition indicates a need, opposing meanings range from darkness, to defeat and weakness.
This aett too is named after a god. As with most Norse gods, there are many acceptable names for the same figure, and in this case range from Tyr or Tir to Tiwaz and Tiw, with many other spellings acceptable. Tiwaz was the god of law and justice, though was also associated with war. Like justice, law, war, and reason, these runes are grouped together because they deal with abstract concepts and ideas.
Fittingly, this is the rune of justice and law, just like its namesake. It also indicates analysis, rationality, and knowing one’s strengths. When read in merkstave, Tiwaz can mean over-analysis, injustice, imbalance, and war.
It is a little-discussed fact that this rune is also associated with a god, or rather, a goddess. Bercha, the “birch-goddess” is related to regenerative energies, and therefore the rune is associated with fertility, growth (though mental, physical, and emotional growth is more common than the literal, physical meaning), and renewal. In merkstave, it represents familial strife or anxiety, carelessness, or sterility.
Horses are the key to this rune, and the meanings derived from this rune relate back to that central meaning. Like Raido, transportation is a common interpretation of this rune. Partnership and loyalty are also acceptable meanings. In merkstave, this rune can mean feeling restless, confined, or betrayed. It can also indicate recklessness.
This rune belongs to humans, as Mannaz is the rune of mankind. It can represent the self, or core of an individual just as often as it can mean the entire human race. It also signifies intelligence and awareness. In merkstave, this rune takes on the worst of us: manipulation, depression, and mortality.
While this rune may indicate bodies of water, it more often represents creativity, and imagination, as well as mysteries, the unknown, and the underworld. Its merkstave can indicate suicide, madness, and obsession.
This is another rune named after a god, though Ing -- the rune’s namesake -- is also sometimes depicted as mortal, though a great hero. When depicted as a god, Ing is the god of Earth. This is a rune of simple strengths, as well as being associated with masculinity and male fertility, as well as virtue. This rune cannot be read merkstave, but can, under the right circumstances, be read in opposition to other runes to mean impotence or toil.
Othala and its meanings center around heritage. Therefore its meanings include birthplace, inherited possession, property, the home, and fundamental values. Reversed, the rune can mean poverty, homelessness, clannishness -- or an over-inflated sense of “us” versus “them” -- as well as prejudice and slavery.
This rune is associated with the day or dawn. This can be metaphorical and mark the dawning of an idea or movement, and is therefore associated with clarity and awareness. It can also mean willpower and transformation. While it cannot be read merkstave due to its form -- the last of this group of runes that has this limitation -- it can be read in opposition to mean limits, endings (of the day, of periods of time, etc.), blindness, and completion.
The Blank Rune
Our last topic for the day is not in any aett, as it was only invented in 1980, and not at all part of the original Elder Futhark. It is for this reason that many people do not agree with the use of the blank rune in divinatory rune reading, as there seems to be no rhyme or reason to its addition and it sullies the authenticity of the Norse practice. As an example, Professor Wessex, whose runes you saw last week, did not include this rune in her set, whereas my set does. This is personal preference and your readings will not be less accurate regardless of what you choose.
However, if you do believe in the usage and need of the blank rune, make sure it is part of your rune set. On the other hand, if you do not believe, but have one in your rune set, you must remove it immediately! Your rune set must be attuned to you, and clinging to a tradition you do not believe in, or forcing yourself to be skeptical of a practice you believe in will harm the accuracy of your readings.
For those of you do believe in the need, as well as those of you who are simply curious, the blank rune can indicate death, though this death is not necessarily a literal one, but can be figurative, and signal a rebirth. Additionally, this is a rune of total faith, to the point of blind faith.
Phew! That was quite a list, wasn’t it! Have no fear, if you can already feel the information I presented you with dribbling out of your ears, I have prepared a “cheat sheet” for you to take back to your dorms with you. Feel free to use it in your assignments, study, and readings until the meanings of these runes becomes second nature to you. As you can see, I have had to greatly condense the meanings on this list, and so it is not a complete replacement for this lecture, as the additional meanings presented here needed to be pared down.
Lastly, on the topic of additional meanings, there is a book in the library, used by the Ancient Runes class, that would improve your understanding of additional rune meanings, or at least reinforce what you have already learned. It is not primarily a book on divination, but of runes overall, so it has a fair amount of extra information there. Ah, I see a few of you nodding, you must have read it for class already, yes? In any case, should you like to pick up the book as supplemental reading, I would highly recommend it, particularly as it lists notable conjunctions -- that is, pairs of runes that are frequently found together -- which were a bit too advanced to cover in the short amount of time we have. In any case, if the book interests you, you can find it in the library, listed as the Rune Dictionary. The pertinent chapters consist of Chapter Three (on Freya’s aett), Chapter Four (on Heimdall’s aett), and Chapter Five (on Tyr’s aett). Though, you may wish to read the portion on making your own runes in Chapter One, titled “Basic Runology”.
For now, I will let all of that sink in before you attempt your homework for the week. You have a quiz, as usual, as well as a practice reading to complete. Don’t worry, the spread is one you are already familiar with and I am sure you will be surprised at your success!
Merkstave: Also called inverted or reversed. This either indicates that the side of the rune without the symbol is showing, or that the rune has been rotated from its normal position.
Standard: Also called upright. This is the normal form of the rune.
Original lesson written by Professor Venita Wessex